Thomas Jefferson and Religion Summary - Facts, History, Information Essay with Quotes

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Thomas Jefferson Essay on Freedom of Religion is an excerpt from an essay I wrote for colonial history at UNCA

Thomas Jefferson spoke out against the established Anglican Church in the colony of Virginia, drawing from the writings of John Locke and Voltaire, as well as the example set forth by William Penn in Pennsylvania,  (1:158). In doing so, Jefferson noted that religious liberty had a direct correlation with all other liberties thereby necessitating the protection of religious liberty. Jefferson proposed that the only way to establish religious liberty was by separation of Church and State. By reiterating the views of both Voltaire and Locke, Jefferson was able to convince the legislature of Virginia of the necessity of separation of Church and State.

Thomas Jefferson portraitLater using the same tactics, Jefferson was able to convince the legislature of the newly established United States of the necessity of religious liberty for the entire country. Jefferson stressed Locke's reasoning .The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. (2:159).

Jefferson added that limiting religion would only cover up the present corruptions encouraging even greater corruption. In defending his opinion on separation of church and State, Jefferson noted 'subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion desirable?. (2:160).

Letters written to the Massachusetts Spy outlined the basic position held by Americans concerning religious toleration most heartedly agreed with Jefferson and Madison. One such article stated, quote In a well regulated state, it will be the business of the legislature to prevent sectaries of different denominations from molesting and disturbing each other; to ordain that no part of the community shall be permitted to perplex and harass the other for any supposed heresy. end of quote

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